I will bet everything for cause of Marathas, vows Ajit Pawar
Deputy chief minister makes the promise as he takes charge of two community-specific entities; meets Maratha leaders and gives Rs 8 crore grant to Sarathi, a Pune-based institute
In a gesture that is likely to help him in particular and his Nationalist Congress Party in general, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar has taken it upon himself to ensure the welfare of the Maratha community in an attempt to win over the state's biggest vote bank. He has taken under his wings two important entities — Sarathi and Annasaheb Patil Finance Development Corporation — that were set up by the previous BJP government that also gave Marathas a quota in jobs and education.
The Maratha community is agitated because their reservation status is still undecided, as the matter is pending before the Supreme Court. The state had implemented a 13 per cent quota for the Marathas with the approval of the Bombay High Court, but the decision was later challenged in the SC.
The then Congress-NCP regime had announced a Maratha quota ahead of the 2014 polls, but it was scrapped. Later, the BJP-Sena government passed a bill approving the quota. The Marathas, who account for the state's 30-35 per cent voters and remained split between the principal parties, but by 2019 polls, they seemed to have preferred the BJP over others, except in some NCP-dominated regions.
The Maratha community, including its leaders like BJP MP Sambhaji Raje Bhosale, and all-powerful Maratha Kranti Morcha that led a silent state-wide agitation for the quota, now want the case to be fought by able legal luminaries. Moreover, they want Sarathi, a Pune-based institute founded to help Maratha students in skill development and scholarship for higher studies, to be allowed to operate without compromising its autonomous status.
Meets Maratha leaders
On Thursday, Pawar met Maratha leaders and announced that his Planning Department will control Sarathi and it will also get an immediate grant of R8 crore. Within two hours of the announcement, the grant was approved.
He said the state-owned Annasaheb Patil Finance Development Corporation, which offers Marathas financial assistance for commercial and industrial activity, will also be under his control. Till date, Congress minister Vijay Wadettiwar controlled Sarathi, while NCP's Nawab Malik had the finance corporation at his disposal.
Wadettiwar, who was accused of being unjust to Marathas, said he himself had asked Pawar to take reigns of Sarathi. "Even Nawab bhai requested Ajit dada to take control of Annasaheb Patil Finance Development Corporation. Both of us feel that the two entities will face no problems in future," said the minister, who was also asked by the Maratha leaders to quit a week ago.
BJP's Bhosale welcomed Pawar's initiative and suggested that Sarathi's future be designed to make it self-sustainable over the next decade. "The institute shouldn't demand money from the government in the years to come. It should generate revenue on its own and sustain itself," he said.
Bhosale, heir to the erstwhile Maratha's Kolhapur royal seat, also sought to downplay the tension over him getting a seat in the third row in the meeting with Pawar. His supporters had created a ruckus and there were agitations in the state. "I came here as my community's representative and preferred to sit with my people. There is no issue over denial of respect. We must go beyond such minor things and ensure the welfare activity," he said.
Earlier, some Maratha ministers from the Shiv Sena were engaged in talks with the community and even went to Pune to review Sarathi, but didn't get to play a benevolent role later. From the Congress side, Maratha leader Ashok Chavan heads a group of ministers that looks into legal affairs of Maratha reservation. The group has Maratha ministers from all three parties in coalition.
"I will bet everything in my life for the Maratha cause" Ajit Pawar assured and once again emerged as a powerful Maratha leader, albeit only second to his uncle Sharad Pawar.
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